It has commonly been proposed that America gives everyone an equal opportunity at achieving the elusive American Dream, but this is not necessarily the case. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African Americans living in America faced prejudice and discrimination daily. It was evident that blacks did not have the same opportunities as whites did when it came to getting an education, gaining employment, voting, and using public facilities. “Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, segregation on the grounds of race, religion or national origin was banned at all places of public accommodation, including courthouses, parks, restaurants, theaters, sports arenas and hotels.
No longer could blacks and other minorities be denied service simply based on the color of their skin” (Civil Rights Act of 1964, 2010, para. 14). It seems that even after this law was passed, the struggle with racism continued. Why is this? Research done by social scientists suggests that racism is still an issue in modern America due to unconscious stereotypes about people of color. These racial stereotypes then dictate how those members of a racial group act towards those not in the group. In the past, whites were viewed as free and civilized, while people of color were seen as savage and uncivilized, and these past perceptions influence how many white Americans view minorities in today’s world. (Hutchinson, 2014, p. 27-30).
It seems America is stuck in the past and is unable to let go of their preconceived notions. Although America often prides itself on factors such as diversity and the provision of equal opportunities for its citizens, the continual discrimination and racism faced by minorities proves otherwise.
Notably, discrimination against people of South Asian descent hit an all-time high after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “For example, in 2010, a cab driver was beaten by two male passengers; in 2011, a Sikh-owned store was vandalized and set on fire; and in 2012, an Indian man was pushed in front of an oncoming train…Evidence suggests that these incidents were not carried out at random; rather, the victims were targeted due to their (perceived) racial, ethnic, or religious affiliation” (Kumar, 2016, p. 12). Kumar (2016) also states that people of South Asian descent experienced less serious types of discrimination, including xenophobic remarks, racial profiling, and being perceived as anti-American, and the victims believed these incidents were tied to their skin color and/or cultural attire (2016, p.12). By the same token, 2014 was a year filled with stories with the focus on racism: “…a sorority at The University of Alabama keeping out black pledges, a Cal State Fullerton sorority hosting a taco party with Mexican “gangsta” costumes, and racist remarks from the then-owner of the Los Angeles Clippers” (Burke, 2014, para. 1).
If people of color are not dealing with discrimination or acts of violence against them, they most likely have dealt with backhanded remarks. Racism comes in many forms; people even try and present it as a compliment. “Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence, 20, and Paige Woods, 21, have heard racial bigotry cloaked as ‘compliments’ their entire lives. “People say, ‘I don’t even think of you as black!’ as if I’ll be flattered. I like being black,” says Paige. As freshmen at Harvard, the comments kept coming, and the culture felt even more unwelcoming of African-American students. “All those little digs de-value our culture, intelligence … our entire lives”” (Burke, 2014, para. 3). A big contributor to ongoing racism is ignorance. People like to say they do not see color because they think viewing everyone as equal is better than noticing the differences that make up the citizens of the melting pot that is America. “I think this phrase hides the underlining truth in America that no one seems to really be able to discuss…racism.
Racism is alive and thriving in our country and you saying that you don’t see color really doesn’t help… Because unless you are blind or have something wrong with your eyes, you most definitely see color” (Faida, 2017, para.4). Despite the saying, ignorance is not bliss. The first step towards becoming a country with more racial equality is acknowledging the differences between white people and minorities.
Furthermore, a multitude of Americans believe that racism is a major problem.” …the majority of Americans — more than 6 in 10 — said racism remains a major problem in our society. And more people chose race over religion, gender and class as the biggest cause of division, according to the poll” (Scott, 2018, para.1). With the many specific issues regarding racial profiling in the past decade, it is hard to ignore that it is a continuing problem people of color face. For example, the arrest of two black men for simply sitting inside a Starbucks, Applebee’s employees falsely accusing two African-American women of not paying their bill, and the numerous accounts of black people having the cops called on them by suspicious white people while carrying out their daily, harmless tasks.
On a similar note, people speaking a language other than English have been chastised for it and told to speak English or leave the country. “Other recent incidents include ordinary citizens being harassed or questioned for speaking Spanish, such as the Manhattan attorney who berated restaurant employees on camera for speaking the language and threatening to call immigration authorities, and the Border Patrol agent who detained two women for speaking it at Montana gas station” (Makela, 2018, para.11). This nation was built on principles of immigration and freedom of speech but has proven to instead be intolerant of those with their own customs and ideologies.
Another key point is the discrimination President Barack Obama experienced before, during, and after his time in office. One of the biggest acts of racism against Obama was the rumor made up by Republicans that he was not born in America, also known as the birther movement. Upon providing legal documentation that he was born in Hawaii, Obama was met with refusal that it was valid. “Why is this racist? New York Times columnist Timothy Egan explained that the birther movement “has little to do with reality and everything to do with the strangeness of Obama’s background—especially his race.” He continued, “Many Republicans refuse to accept that Obama could come from such an exotic stew and still be ‘American.’” (Nittle, 2019, para.3). Political cartoons and caricatures frequently portrayed him in racist and unflattering forms, ranging from a monkey to a terrorist. This could be reflective of the overall attitude and treatment towards Americans with a darker complexion. Electing the first black president was a defining moment in America and could have been a huge step toward racial equality, but that progress was ruined by those who treated Obama with blatant racism.
This type of racist behavior could be very damaging to other people of color looking to get into politics. They may shy away due to fear of discrimination, or they may feel they can never get anywhere politically because of the color of their skin. America needs to acknowledge the fact that racism is a problem that is still plaguing our society today and start working towards eliminating it. Until then, can we really say we are proud to be American?